The European Tour returns from its winter break this week and a strong field will fight it out for the Abu Dhabi Championship. However, please note this week’s tournament takes place from Wednesday to Saturday (17-20 January) instead of the conventional Thursday to Sunday. It kicks-off early on Wednesday morning too, so make sure you place your bets before you go to bed on Tuesday.
This will be only the 14th renewal of the Abu Dhabi Championship but its growing stature has earned it an upgrade this season and it is now the first tournament in the Rolex Series. One of the reasons for that upgrade is the Abu Dhabi Golf Club is usually presented in excellent condition and the 7,583 yards Par 72 course provides players with a thorough test of all components of their game.
The Abu Dhabi Golf Course has few undulations, and its length, bunkers, and over-seeded ryegrass rough are its main defences. The Bermuda grass greens are usually on the fast side compared to most European Tour events and often run at around 12 – 12.5 on the Stimpmeter.
The fact Tommy Fleetwood has won the last two renewals, whilst Rickie Fowler won in 2016, suggests this is a tournament that top-class players win. However, there have been a few shocks over the years, the latest of which was Gary Stal’s win in 2015.
This year’s field has an exceptionally strong look to it though, with Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka heading the market. Tommy Fleetwood returns in a bid to notch-up his hat-trick, whilst Henrik Stenson also represents Europe, and Louis Oosthuizen bids to quickly add another tournament win to his C.V. after ending a three-year drought in the South African Open.
Those five top players all have the game to conquer the Abu Dhabi Golf Club, as they tend to hit plenty of greens in regulation, which has been a key factor to success here over the years. Now this tournament is part of the Rolex Series, the gut-feeling is the top players will also be more motivated this year and 11 of the 16 Roles Series events played so far have gone to players priced up at no higher than 26/1. Admittedly, there have been a few big-priced winners, but two of those have come on unfamiliar courses in the Scottish Open, whilst the likes of Thorbjorn Olesen, Lee Westwood, and Danny Willett were all high-class players returning to form.
One market leader I’m happy to pass on this week is Dustin Johnson. Of course, he has the class to win this at a canter, but a best-priced 6/1 hardly compensates for his 0 from 21 record on the European Tour.
I’m also happy to give DJ’s gym partner Brooks Koepka a miss this week, as he didn’t look at his best in Hawaii two weeks ago, whilst a missed cut in 2014 doesn’t make 11/1 about a Koepka win very enticing. Meanwhile, Stenson has gone close here the last three years, posting finishes of 3/8/8, but the popular Swede is now the wrong side of 40.
The case for backing Fleetwood is much more compelling, as he proved last year he can defend this title, and he’ll surely want to remind Johnson and Koepka why he won four-points at last year’s Ryder Cup. Fleetwood has also been on a steep upward curve over the last couple of years and he’ll want to get off to a good start again this year as he looks to regain his European Number One Title from Ryder Cup partner Francesco Molinari.
The other market leader I want on side this week is Louis Oosthuizen. He has looked somewhere near his best in some of South Africa’s biggest events of late, and he quickly put the disappointment of not winning the 2018 Nedbank Challenge behind him by winning his native South African Open. Widely considered to have one of the best tee-to-green golf games in the world, he has been plagued by back issues over the last few seasons. However, there have been no reports of any injuries this week so far. Oosthuizen hasn’t played here since 2011 but, having finished second in 2009 and fifth in 2010, there’s no reason why he won’t give us a good run for our money.
I’m also giving a chance to a potential future star of the European Tour this week in Thomas Detry. The young Belgian took an instant like to this course on his first look at it last season, posting a 68 in round two and a 64 in round three. He sat just one shot behind Tommy Fleetwood with one round to go before a final round 72 dropped him to ninth place.
Abu Dhabi Championship Free Tips
Tommy Fleetwood (Each-Way) @ 12.00 Betfair, Unibet, Betway
Louis Oosthuizen (Each-Way) @ 21.00 Ladbrokes, William Hill, Betvictor, Coral, Betway
Thomas Detry (Each-Way) @ 51.00 Ladbrokes, Marathon, Unibet, Betway